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London 2012: Temporary Olympic Constructions

08 Aug 2011 (Last Updated August 8th, 2011 18:30)

Are cheaper, temporary sporting venues the key to an economical and sustainable 2012 Olympic Games? Elisabeth Fischer finds out how London plans to use temporary yet memorable constructions to deliver one of the biggest international sporting events in history.

Counting on a mixture of existing, newly built and temporary venues the London 2012 organisers aim to build a long-term legacy while keeping the construction costs down.

Instead of spending lavish amounts of money on infrastructure that would struggle to find profitable uses after the Games, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) intends to create new standards of sustainable development.

Plagued by funding issues, the initial £9.345bn budget for the construction of the Olympic venues has taken several hard hits during the extensive planning process, and the anticipated final costs had to be downgraded to £7.301bn.

In the past, several Olympic host cities and nations spent too much money on infrastructure that had no use after the Games.

London might have learned from these mistakes, using the funding to deliver permanent constructions for the long run and temporary venues where capacity will not be needed after the Games.

The idea of cheaper and removable sport venues is nothing new: temporary tents have been in use since the ancient Olympics in Greece. London 2012 however will have a greater number of temporary venues than any previous modern Games or global event.

Demountable, reusable buildings and bridges replace permanent structures to meet the challenge to build iconic and memorable yet sustainable venues.

Temporary basketball arena north-east of Stratford’s Olympic Park

"The basketball arena was cheap and quick to put up and it will be easy to demount."

The biggest and perhaps most impressive temporary building is the 12,000 seat basketball arena, located in the north-east of the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London.

The designers and constructors, led by Sinclair Knight Merz together with Wilkinson Eyre and KSS design group, had to face a set of challenges as they were asked to deliver a venue capable of being dismantled and reused at other events without depriving the public of a venue worthy of the Games.

The result is an impressive arena, described as a ‘Meccano’ construction. The rippled exterior of the 1,000t, 35m high and 115m long steel frame has been wrapped in 20,000m2 of recyclable white PVC, especially designed to keep the fabric in place.

From outside, the arena conveys a futuristic style while inside, the steep stands with black and orange seating suggest a lively atmosphere during the events in the arena.

"The basketball arena was cheap and quick to put up and will be easy to demount for its after-use," explained ODA director of infrastructure and utilities Simon Wright at the ‘The 2012 Games: get informed, get inspired, get involved’ event on 8 July 2011 in London.

"There was no legacy demand for such a stadium in this part of London and therefore we made it temporary and re-locatable. It’s a good example that we’ve only built when there was actual economic demand in the long run."

After the Games, the arena will be dismantled by its constructors. The ODA is in talks with the organisers of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics to ship the external structure to Brazil, while the plastic seats could end up in other sporting venues in the UK, such as Silverstone.

Layered Olympic Stadium

The £537m centrepiece of the park shows the economic and temporary nature of the Games. "The organisers of the London 2012 Olympic Games were certainly not looking to make life easy for the architect of the Olympic stadium when they set out their brief," described Populous senior principal Rod Sheard, one of the designers of the stadium, in a BBC Online article in September 2010.

"While Populous had previously worked on the Sydney Olympic Stadium, which was reduced from 115,000 seats to 83,000 seats, the scale of conversion proposed for London was unprecedented."

A layered stadium design eventually met the organiser’s demands: 25,000 permanent seats are located in the lower tier, while a temporary lightweight steel and concrete upper stage holds 55,000 removable seats.

This design segregates the athletes and the media, who are located on the lower ground at the level of the track, from the spectators who can access their seats across bridges straight into the stadium.

In addition, the viewer facilities have been added as temporary pods outside the stadium, where they will be easily removable after the Games. "In order to respond to the strong sustainability agenda set by London 2012 and to minimise the costs involved in transformation after the Games, we decided to ’embrace the temporary’ and remove the majority of spectator facilities from within the stadium and located them in self-contained ‘pods’ around the island," said Sheard.

Critics however challenge Populous’ claims of an economically and environmentally sustainable stadium where temporary and permanent elements gear faultlessly into each other. Building Design magazine’s Amanda Baillieu was critical that the temporary roof cannot be reused to cover the permanent seating area because of the difference in size.

Also, it is unlikely the removed seats are wanted for any other event, and the costs involved in dismantling the stadium as well as the surrounding pods has not been factored into the final cost of the site.

Temporary elements of a memorable event

In order to achieve sustainability goals, several other venues throughout the Olympic park are either fully or partly temporary.

"The organisers were certainly not looking to make life easy for the architect of the Olympic stadium when they set out their brief."

The eye-catching £75m Aquatics Centre, designed by Pritzker Prize winner Zaha Hadid, is a permanent venue but most of the 17,500 spectators will be seated in two temporary wings, which will be taken down after the Games. The centre will then become a facility for the local community, with only the two 50m swimming pools and the 25m diving pool left for long-term use.

Right next to the Aquatics Centre, the organisers have placed the Water Polo Arena, a completely temporary venue containing a warm-up and a competition pool.

After the Games the arena will be taken down, with elements expected to be reused or relocated elsewhere in the UK. Also the Hockey Centre, currently being installed in the Olympic Park, is fully temporary.

After the Games, it will be down-sized from 15,000 to 3,000 seats and moved north of the Olympic Park, joining a group of facilities known as Eton Manor.

The bridges leading to the Olympic Stadium have temporary characteristics to cope with the crowds during the Games. One example is a temporary walkway designed by heneghan peng architects, which links two permanent bridges with a central temporary infill utilising recycled running shoes to form a multicoloured carpet.

"In the long-term we don’t need that very wide walkway and we just end up with the Z-shaped rumbled surface, which is the legacy bridge," explained Simon Wright. "We build for the Games in a very temporary nature where we don’t need that capacity in the long term."

Sustainable venues can provide a lasting legacy

"London 2012 will have a greater number of temporary venues than any previous Games or global event," said LOCOG head of sustainability David Stubbs.

"London 2012 will have a greater number of temporary venues than any previous Games or global event."

"Given our sustainability goals, this represents a unique and exciting opportunity to work with industry to develop new methods and tools for assessing, sourcing, specifying temporary materials and identifying appropriate reuse and recycling options."

Leading with the economical construction of the Olympic venues, one of LOCOG’s main goals is to deliver a sustainable and low-carbon Games.

One way to achieve the target is the use of solely sustainable materials for the temporary buildings and temporary elements of permanent buildings at the Games.

In May 2009, the Olympic Board agreed a policy, which set out rigorous specifications for the use and disposal of PVC fabrics when used in impermanent buildings and components.

Contractors have supplied recycled content, avoided phthalate plasticisers and had to sign a guarantee to implement ‘take-back’ systems to ensure the materials will be re-used or recycled after the Games.

With the use of demountable, temporary buildings London 2012 aims at achieving the goal of not only memorable but also sustainable Olympics. If the organisers can achieve their high standards, future host cities could follow their example and hold Games in reusable building, not only saving cities from major debts but also from redundant sporting venues.